Australia wildfires: Terrified final phone call of woman whose house was engulfed in flames

8 November 2019, 17:33 | Updated: 9 November 2019, 21:17

One of the three people killed in Australia's wildfires was in "absolute panic" as the road to her house became "a tunnel of fire".

Vivian Chaplain's daughter-in-law has told how she spoke to her on the phone as flames engulfed her home.

Chrystal Harwood said: "I was the last one to speak to her. She was in absolute panic. She said, 'We're on fire. There's fire everywhere. I need the boys here now.'

"Before I even got to tell her to just get out, she'd hung up on me. I couldn't get back through to her. I tried so many times."

In an appeal for help on social media, the road to 69-year-old Mrs Chaplain's house was described as "a tunnel of fire".

Mrs Chaplain was found unconscious and with serious burns. She died in hospital.

Two other people have died and more than 30 are injured as wildfires continue to rage across the east coast of Australia.

Several people are missing and more than 150 homes have been destroyed by the blazes, which have killed around 350 koalas in the town of Port Macquarie in New South Wales.

Around 1,500 firefighters have been battling 70 fires across the state, which is most the populous in Australia, with strong winds and erratic behaviour reported to be hampering their efforts.

Thousands of people were forced to flee their homes on Friday when 17 fires were burning at emergency warning levels, the most extreme danger rating, and more than 50 smaller blazes were also burning out of control, officials said.

Many people spent the night in evacuation centres while some slept in cars.

Satellite images showed the smoke had reached as far as New Zealand.

Rural fire service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the most intense fires have been seen in the northeast of New South Wales, where flames have been fanned by strong winds.

He added that firefighters found a body in a burned car near Glen Innes on Saturday.

Five others are reported missing in the vicinity of the same fire.

More than 30 people, including firefighters, have received medical treatment for burns and one patient had a cardiac arrest.

Mr Fitzsimmons said: "We are in uncharted territory... we've never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level.

"It is a very volatile and very dangerous set of circumstances that we are experiencing right across these fire grounds in New South Wales.

"There are really grave concerns that there could be more losses or indeed more fatalities."

Australia's prime minister, Scott Morrison, said: "The devastating and horrific fires that we've seen, particularly in New South Wales, but also in Queensland, have been absolutely chilling."

Only two fires were burning at the highest danger rating by Saturday.

More than half of the 500 to 600 koalas living on a coastal reserve in Port Macquarie were killed in the fires, according to Koala Conversation Australia.

Animal carers at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, where injured koalas are being nursed, believe it will take at least 10 days to assess the full damage to the koala population.

The fires have come as part of one of Australia's worst bushfire seasons, with a record number of emergency warnings and firefighters battling dozens of blazes.

Less destructive fires were blazing in other Australian states.

In Queensland, where emergencies had been declared for three fires early on Friday evening, around 6,500 people in several towns including Cooroibah and Tewantin, were told to leave by the state's fire and emergency services.

More than 50 fires in all were burning in the state to the north of New South Wales.

People living in parts of the Sunshine Coast and further inland were told to leave their homes as the danger spread towards suburban Brisbane with a number of homes there under threat on Friday afternoon.

The annual Australian fire season which peaks during the Southern Hemisphere summer has started early after an unusually warm and dry winter.

Mr Fitzsimmons said little reprieve in fire conditions could be expected over the next week or throughout the summer months of December, January and February.

He continued: "The forecast for the balance of the season continues to be driven by above-normal temperatures [and] below-average rainfall to dominate over the coming months."